100 years in Marrakech

Orla Ring describes what makes the Moroccan city “a gem of Northern Africa”

When deciding where one wants to spend a long weekend or their precious summer holiday time, they want to be wowed. They want to indulge in rich and flavourful food, take in beautiful scenery or architecture, and experience a plethora of activities from museums and tours to relaxing on a beach or simply trying their best to spend time as a local would. One of my favourite holiday activities is exploring local grocery stores and seeing what they offer — everyone has their own thing. Here, I chose to focus on a range of different museums — as well as other activities — that offer artistic, cultural, and historical insight into what makes Marrakech a gem of Northern Africa. 

Europe has an incredible range of destinations: city breaks, beach holidays, hiking, skiing. Anything you can think of, most of it can be done in a destination within Europe. However, recently online a popular tagline of travel videos has been “the Bahamas of Europe” or “the Hawai’i of Europe!” Europe has every type of holiday on offer, but why shouldn’t we extend our sights just a little bit further? Whether you are travelling on a budget or looking for a luxury vacation, Marrakesh will satisfy your craving — particularly as Ryanair regularly flies direct from Dublin to Marrakech.

“Marrakech is overflowing with history, culture, art, food, scenery and more”

Marrakech is a major city in the centre of Morocco: a cultural, historical, and artistic capital of the world that is often overlooked. Current affairs or personal prejudices may dissuade some from travelling to Morocco, but it would be a shame to disregard the intricate history and rich culture it has to offer. Marrakech is overflowing with history, culture, art, food, scenery and more. It truly has something to give everyone a holiday to remember.  

Historical heritage of Marrakech

The first aspects of recorded history in Morocco begins between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, when the Moroccan coast was colonised by the Phoenicians. There are also pre-historic recordings of the Berbers in the Moroccan region thousands of years before the Phoenicians, highlighting just how deep the history of Morocco is. 

 From the 6th century BC until the 17th century, Morocco was ruled by a multitude empires and dynasties: the Kingdom of Nekor, the Idrisd dynasty, the Almoravid dynasty, the Almohad dynasty, the Marinids dynasty, the Wattasid dynasty, the Saadi dynasty, the Republic of Salé, and finally the Alaouite dynasty of today, which has retained its power since 1666. As the European imperial age began, so too did the European influence in Marrakech as the Ottoman Empire gained power over the Maghreb and Morocco. 

This created a dynamic cultural and artistic scene in Northern Africa, a blend of Muslim, African, Arabian, and European cultures. Not only culture, but the ever-evolving early modern and contemporary history of Morocco places Marrakech as a historical oasis in all fields — political history, military history, social history, geopolitical history, cultural history — aspects of history that would interest any group of travellers. 

Marrakech was one of the main imperial cities for most of the empires that came and went from power in Morocco. It remains a regional capital today, home to over twenty-two different historical museums. A favourite among the tourists is the Musée Tiskiwin which focuses on the greater North African history from all ages, through artefacts and everyday objects collected from the region throughout history from the Berbers to the 18th century. Then there is the Mohammed VI Museum, which specialises in the natural history of Marrakech, and houses a water museum as well. In the theme of nature, the Museum Berber and the Jardin Majorelle have both been labelled must-sees by its visitors, and would be perfect for fans of beautiful, natural gardens.

Cultural heritage of Marrakech

The ever-changing political landscape of Morocco and Marrakech has resulted in a city with a vibrant cultural heritage. One of the most impressive cultural sites is the UNESCO World Heritage protected Medina of Marrakech. The Medina was founded in roughly 1070–1072 BC, by the Almoravid dynasty. 

“The Women’s Museum Marrakech is a brilliant way to learn about the contributions that women have made to the society of Marrakech for centuries”

Marrakech was greatly influenced by other cultures, as Marrakech has hints of African and North African cultures, Middle Eastern cuisines, and elements of European influence. Yet, Marrakech and more broadly, Morocco, was the inspiration for many other cultural trends and rituals as far as Andalusia in Spain. For those who prefer discovering culture through exhibitions in museums, the Heritage Museum of Marrakech is the perfect place to start in discovering its culture. The Women’s Museum Marrakech is a brilliant way to learn about the contributions that women have made to the society of Marrakech for centuries, an often overlooked aspect of a country’s history. And for the architects and fans of shiny things, the Museum of Marrakech has stunning artefacts, jewellery and ceramics. Not only that, the building itself is captivating. 

However, if you’re the type of traveller who simply prefers to wander and walk around the city, Marrakech presents no obstacles. Stores, traditional architecture, and mosques all create a gorgeous skyline: a central city with a beautiful background. For a deeper dive into the modern and historical culture of Marrakech, the central markets — the souks — are a must-see. The central souks — open-air markets that are located all over the city centre -– are constructed by many stalls, many of which still practise traditional methods of artisanal production. The Souk Haddadine, Souk Cherratine, Souk des Babouche, Souk des Teinturiers and la Criée Berbère showcase beautiful Berber carpets, the wool-dying trade, traditional Moroccan slippers, and the leather goods section. For those who love the traditional fridge magnet souvenir, don’t fear, as there are plenty of commercialised tourist stalls where you can pick up a little present for those at home.

Artistic heritage of Marrakech

The artistic heritage in Marrakech is deeply tied to the culture, and therefore the museum recommendations are very similar. That being said, there are specific art museums of contemporary and traditional Moroccan art that deserve a mention. The Orientalist Museum of Marrakech is home to a multitude of artwork from different movements, such as impressionism, as well as works from iconic artists like Salvador Dali, with the aim of promoting how Marrakech and Morocco were viewed by non-native artists. It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore Marrakech through a different lens, as well as underlining  how artists from Western countries portrayed Marrakech. For authentic Moroccan art, the Maison de la Photographie, located in a traditional riad in the old town and Der El Bacha both celebrate Moroccan artists. 

“If you have a flexible schedule, you could always try and line your trip up with the Marrakech film festival seeing as Marrakech is home to some iconic film sets”

In a city as vibrant as Marrakech, one of the most authentic and foolproof methods of uncovering the culture as I’ve already said, is simply wandering around! The different neighbourhoods, such as the Kasbah, have culture at every corner, simply from the historical architecture. If you have a flexible schedule, you could always try and line your trip up with the Marrakech film festival seeing as Marrakech is home to some iconic film sets. One only has to think of Casablanca! For a traditional taste, a local cinema or theatre is always a hit, whether you can speak French/Arabic or not. If the language is completely foreign to you, that just means you can truly think on your own interpretation of the piece, or admire the costumes and background.

 In the depths of winter, when freezing Irish rain soaks through your clothes on your commute in the dark hours of early morning, there is nothing better than dreaming about a getaway to a gorgeous and vibrant city. Marrakech offers all this and more. Relax at that hotel pool and finally get around to reading that book, or hit 30,000 steps each day while exploring the city and trying every type of traditional cuisine that you can. Either way, Marrakech truly offers something for everyone.